*Disclaimer, the following article features minor spoilers for the Kingdom Hearts series. Read at your own risk.*

Intro

Before he started dressing in black and dropping into dreams, Sora, the protagonist of Square Enix and Disney crossover series Kingdom Hearts, had a lot to prove.  Let’s take a look at his design.

“A serious combat game featuring Disney and Final Fantasy characters?”  As if this wasn’t hard enough sell, the protagonist and core story is essentially separate from either franchise.  Mix in strange concepts like a “keyblade” and themes of heart, memory, and light and dark, and you have a recipe for mixed reviews.  Despite all this, the franchise not only succeeded, it became a surprise hit.  Therefore, let’s take a critical look at the strangely unique progression of the franchise’s main character, Sora.

Once you’ve read the article, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.


Overview

If anything is to be said about Sora, it’s this: simple does not mean bad.  Sora’s a strong character that is direct and straightforward, but it’s what he represents, both to the story, and to the player, that really takes him over the top.

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Character Breakdown

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While Sora’s simplicity initially comes off as a flat representation of the hero’s journey.  This, however, actually works to the advantage of the series.  Sora is an open book at all times, which helps accent the more complicated plot and side characters.  This contrast makes it especially easy to like the subtly of his developing story, as you don’t need to interpret how he sees the world.

Not only does Sora’s archetype give room for him to compliment more complicated characters, but also to have characters give new outlooks to Sora’s personality without getting too confused by the minutia.  A particularly effective one is in Kingdom Hearts Re: Coded, where a virtual replication of Sora is made.  Sora’s easy to understand personality makes it easy to spot subtle differences between the two that define them both as individual characters that are both worth uniquely caring about.  Voluntarily putting into question the way that Sora himself is designed and developed.

Even so, despite the games literally describing him as unchanging, his archetype of the “straightforward hero” begins to show cracks when they try to expand Sora’s narrative reach in later titles.

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“The closer you get to the light, the greater your shadow becomes.” – Voice, Kingdom Hearts
Image taken from Giphy.com

Personality:xid-14269274_1.png

Sora is a character of honesty and innocence.  He’s naive and courageous, and eventually skilled and confident, if a little dense.  A simple kid who simply wants to help and save his friends, meeting and helping new friends along the way.  In fact, friends are perhaps the thing most important to Sora.  With the fates of worlds looming over him, his connections to his friends, new or childhood, pushes him onward.

Early in Kingdom Hearts, Sora sees his childhood friend Riku being covered in darkness, and rushes in it to try and pull him out, more worried about his friend’s safety over his own.  This is proven true once again when he makes an even more drastic decision to save one of his friends at the later in the same game.  His selflessness remains throughout the entire series, to the point that he even rubs off on more hardened and dynamic characters along the way.

Sora is also notably like a straightforward child in many scenes.  This is good, because it points out things that are often what the player is thinking, and only works to strengthen the player-character bond and the scene as a whole.  There’s nothing quite like hearing the young Sora tell someone that they’re stupid after they finish their evil monologue.  Luckily, Sora never quite loses this luster, only becoming more sarcastic and funny with age.

Sora may be just what you expect, but his base personality is strong, likeable, and consistent to his personality traits.  Sora knows that he is just some kid with a keyblade, so when he says what is perhaps the most iconic line in the Kingdom Hearts series, it rings true to his personality.

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“I don’t need a weapon.  My friends are my power!” – Sora, Kingdom Hearts
Image taken from Giphy.com

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Sora’s everyone’s friend unless he’s their enemy.  As a boy who is always willing to help, and mistakes forgives easily, it makes it easy for characters to feel the same way about him.  This leads to some convenient partners, but with the type of game that Kingdom Hearts wants to portray, one where Sora enters the worlds of Disney movies and helps out, then it would be difficult to handle it in a more believable way without extending the story longer.  In fact, often times Sora is able to portray a quick friendship believably within the story, making that story arc all the more interesting.

As for Sora’s strongest friendships, he is absolutely unwilling to give up on them.  He’s not above taking a hit for them, and expects nothing in return.  He is a bit less trusting in some friends, though.  His crush, Kairi, he consistently tells to hang back, instead trusting his other friends to back him up.  Though this may be somewhat deserved, as she has been more of a moral support for Sora rather than a physical one.

However, it’s hard to deny the strength of his relationships and how he values them.  If I continue much further, I’m at risk of using the same quote twice if I don’t spoil whole games first.  Just trust me that there is a lot to relationships in Kingdom Hearts.

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“Sora, don’t ever change.” – Kairi, Kingdom Hearts
Image taken from Giphy.com

Growth: xid-14269274_1.png

Sora begins as a 14-year-old child who is almost always found hanging out with his friends.  He’s got a crush on his friend Kairi, but doesn’t really know how to react to that.  He’s got a rival in his elder friend Riku, but finds himself out-smarted by him.  It’s easiest to describe Sora as the youngest child in the group, despite their ages.  He’s not mature enough to handle his feelings fully, and doesn’t know how to handle people more sly or skilled than him.  He also seems to lack the generalization that anybody is bad.  Despite this, he is kind and direct, though he has yet to have his own dreams, mostly just enjoying time with his friends.  He is a fairly optimal version of a youth protagonist in the hero’s journey.

Being thrust unto his first adventure, he comes out with a confidence he lacked before, and a realization that his friends are what make him who he is.  Having met so many people along the way, he realizes his connections to all these different worlds come through his friends more than anything.  Additionally, while his friends may hurt him, or even his enemies, there’s always a good side to people deep down.

As his adventures continue, he realizes that friends are always worth it, no matter how far they have fallen, and that destiny doesn’t control what they can choose to be.  By the end of the most recent Kingdom Hearts games, he has become a confident and skilled youth with friends and skills to back up his words, but remains just as emotional and innocent as before, just with far more maturity and dependability to back it up now.

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“There’s more to a heart than just anger or hate.  It’s full of all kinds of feelings.” – Sora, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
Image taken from Giphy.com

Theming: xid-14269275_1.png

Kingdom Hearts, as a Square Enix tradition, follows very abstract themes.  Themes of heart, memory, friendship, light and darkness, and what it means to have or lack any of those.  I will try and explain these in short below, but know that theming is what both Square Enix and Kingdom Hearts does best.

Famously, in only 7 of the Kingdom Hearts games, the word “dark” is voice-acted in cutscenes almost 500 times.  I wouldn’t be surprised if “light” had a similar number.  Obviously, themes of light and dark are heavy in the series, and it shows.  Out of the three core characters in the first game, Sora represents light, Riku represents dark, and Kairi represents the connections between the two.  Despite this, all of these characters change roles throughout the latter games, but Sora continually remains the light, even if it does cloud at times.

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, and its remake, are both about the memory, and the importance of memory over your heart, or vice versa.  Perhaps one of the hardest hitting stories in the series, it stands out in both theming and character writing, especially for Sora.

As explained above, friendship is a constant pillar of the story in every major Kingdom Hearts to date, and is entirely encapsulated by Sora’s personality.  Sora’s number one goal is always to help his friends in some way.  For this reason, it is fitting that the pseudo-equivalent of hell in the series, the Realm of Darkness, is a place that you are meant to travel alone, and is filled with never-ending darkness.  It is perhaps also fitting that this realm can also form an object of pure light, mimicking how Sora view’s the heart.  If only more games had such effective character theming.

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“The heart may be weak. And sometimes it may even give in. But I’ve learned that deep down, there’s a light that never goes out!” – Sora, Kingdom Hearts
Image taken from Giphy.com

Conclusion

Kingdom Hearts tells a complicated story with some confusing terminology, but the core of the story holds strong thanks to Sora.  His simplicity compliments the narrative complexity of the series, and his insistence on friends and connections helps the story move, as he meets and helps new and old friends.  Sora may not always be the most important person in a scene, but he is always the character through who the player connects to the story, like a good protagonist should.

Because of this, I find Sora to be a great example of a straightforward and easy to understand character that remains likable despite everything.  Writers take note, not every protagonist needs to be the most complex character.

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